Q: i recently got into a conversation through someone who asserted soils room a renewable source because the nutrients in them have the right to be changed with fertilizers. But I’ve heard the soil bring away a really long time come form, so the to me renders it non-renewable. What’s your opinion?

A: The idea the soil is renewable because nutrients can be changed is very restricted in scope, just addressing chop production. This view does not consider how floor forms, or that it’s much more than just a tool for farming plants.

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However, i am no a pan of the renewable/non-renewable dichotomous group system. Ns prefer one more category for soil: slowly-renewable. But that comes v caveats pertained to the components of floor formation: climate, organisms, relief, parent material, and also time.


Whether floor is renewable or non-renewable is really much more a inquiry of just how long the takes for soil to rebuild and also recover ~ a disturbance, such as the erosion pictured right here in the main Mexican Highlands. Photo: CIMMYT

In the renewable/non-renewable discussion, time must be defined. Room we talking about a growing-season (important native a nutrient perspective), lifetime, centuries, millennia?

I recognize of no floor scientist who would agree the soil is renewable simply because nutrients have the right to be replaced. I doubt couple of would even think about soil renewable in ~ a lifetime, despite under ideal conditions, lot recovery have the right to occur.

So, the question becomes: just how long does the take for a soil to recuperate from erosion, irreversible tillage, compaction, acidification, salinization, etc.?

Climate, organisms

A soil’s capacity to recoup depends top top the climate; soils in humid regions have the potential to rebound more quickly 보다 those in semiarid and also arid regions. Plants grow and die, organisms decompose the tree roots and also residues, and in this means organic matter in the soil increases. In dried regions, there is tiny water to enable plant growth, so whatever happens much more slowly.


Another variable is relief. Soils on stable landscapes—uplands or lowlands, tenderness sloping come level—will be an ext likely to recoup than soils on slopes. Water running downslope erodes soil and deposits it in ~ the bottom the the hill, or carries the sediments right into streams or rivers and degrades water quality. Even in natural, undisturbed landscapes, the least developed soils take place on slopes.

Parent material

This is the ingredient in i beg your pardon a soil forms. Coarser products (sands) often tend to have much more rapid soil development than finer materials (clays and silts). If the floor is developing over bedrock, the process is even slower. If erosion removed the soil to expose the bedrock, that area may not be renewable because that millennia.

When the rate of soil formation exceeds the price of degradation, soils room renewable. In areas where deterioration exceeds formation, soils are non-renewable (at least until the following climate shift).

Some varieties of destruction can be regulated to preserve productivity. Various other kinds that damages may be irreversible. For example, acidification is typical in humid regions or old soils, yet is often controlled with the addition of soil limestone commodities to advanced the pH for crop production.

Salinization is the process of salts accumulating in a soil. It’s often related come irrigation, yet sometimes occurs in lands adjacent to rivers in dried regions. Once soil becomes salinized, the only thing that will certainly leach the salts the end of the floor profile to do it fertile again is good quality water. As soon as that is not accessible from an aquifer or a river (often because dams and reservoirs control floods so the water no longer covers the floodplain), the only other possible source is precipitation.

But precipitation is regularly not numerous in numerous regions and also water is not renewable in many places. Countless arid and semiarid regions experience minimal precipitation and also river flow, degraded surface water quality, among other factors. Numerous of this regions rather use water indigenous deep, secret aquifers with small or no recharge. This “fossil” water to be stored at the time of the last ice cream age. As soon as the aquifers room depleted much faster than they room recharged, water is no renewable because of this can’t be provided to renew soil.

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The bottom line: All herbal resources are valuable, and should be controlled well come insure they will certainly be accessible to future generations.

–Answered by Clay Robinson, a.k.a., Dr. Dirt

This write-up was reprinted with permission indigenous the Soils issue blog. Have actually a inquiry for Soils Matter? Email them at